Law School Case Brief
LaRocque v. LaRocque - 139 Wis. 2d 23, 406 N.W.2d 736 (1987)
A circuit court determining a maintenance award and an appellate court reviewing a maintenance award must apply Wis. Stat. § 767.26 (1985-86), which requires the court to consider: any mutual agreement made by the parties before or during the marriage, according to the terms of which one party has made financial or service contributions to the other with the expectation of reciprocation or other compensation in the future, where such repayment has not been made, or any mutual agreement made by the parties before or during the marriage concerning any arrangement for the financial support of the parties; the contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other; and, such other factors as the court may in each individual case determine to be relevant. These factors are the touchstone of analysis in determining or reviewing a maintenance award. They reflect and are designed to further two distinct but related objectives in the award of maintenance: to support the recipient spouse in accordance with the needs and earning capacities of the parties (the support objective) and to ensure a fair and equitable financial arrangement between the parties in each individual case (the fairness objective).
The husband and wife were divorced after 25 years of marriage. The trial court awarded the wife limited term maintenance of $1,500 per month for five months and $1,000 per month for 13 months. The Court of Appeals affirmed the amount of the award, but reversed the order that limited its duration. Both parties petitioned for further review.
Did the circuit court committ reversible error regarding the maintenance award?
The Supreme Court of Wisconsin affirmed the judgment that reversed the duration order, but reversed the judgment that affirmed the amount. The circuit court abused its discretion in this case by misapplying (or failing to apply) several of the statutory factors and by not giving full play to the objectives of maintenance. By construing the support objective too narrowly and disregarding the fairness objective, the circuit court mistook subsistence to be the objective of maintenance and awarded an inadequate amount. The court noted that under Wis. Stat. § 767.26 (1985-86), a trial court making a maintenance award and an appellate court reviewing the award were required to consider nine factors, including basic fairness. The court found that the trial court did not give proper consideration to the factors. For example, the court said, the trial court found that the wife could become self-supporting as a teacher in 18 months. However, that decision did not take into account whether the wife wanted to become a teacher and whether she would have been able to secure a teaching position. Additionally, the court said, the trial court's decision did not consider the couple's income in the years immediately preceding the divorce.
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